Chanel Iman Talks Racism In The Fashion Industry, When ‘Black Entitlement’ Goes Wrong



2009 Victoria?s Secret Fashion Show After Party

New York – The topic of racism in the fashion industry has reared its ugly head one too many times over the past several months. There was that ELLE France gaffeDolce & Gabbana’s mammy-esque designs and the recent blackface scandal with Numéro magazine. These instances and more remind us that the post-racial society that some like to think we live in is simply a hope and not reality.

One of fashion’s top models, Chanel Iman, is supporting that notion with a candid admission about her experience dealing with racism within the fashion industry.

Our friends over at Clutch spotted an interview with the 22-year-old beauty that was conducted last month for the Sunday Times Magazine. In the article Chanel is asked whether race is truly an issue in the industry. Her response comes as no surprise (at least not to us):

“Yeah, most definitely. A few times I got excused by designers who told me ‘we already found one black girl. We don’t need you anymore.’ I felt very discouraged. When someone tells you, ‘we don’t want you because we already have one of your kind, it’s really sad.”

Black Voices of the Huffington Post continues,

When is this kind of tokenism going to be replaced with employing the right person for the right job? Chanel also talked about those who have spoken out about diversity and acknowledged the beauty of women of color.

“I appreciate designers making a strong statement that black women are beautiful. Black women like fashion. And when there’s more diversity on the runway, it makes our world more inclusive.”

However, sadly the percentage of black models at New York Fashion Week is on the decline–dropping from a dismal 8% to a pathetic 6%, in just one year.

Even fashion heavyweights like Vogue Italia editor-in-chief Franca Sozzani and photographer Steven Meisel, who support and encourage diversity are met with roadblocks.

“I’ve asked my advertising clients so many times, ‘Can we use a black girl?’ They say No. Advertisers say black models don’t sell,” Meisel told The Times Sunday Magazine.

Tell that to legendary models like Naomi Campbell and Iman who are still landing major campaigns and running empires after over half a century of success in the industry between them.

Dang it!!! I forgot to cue the violin music, sorry!,……………Please, SPARE ME with the entitlement, and have several seats Chanel. Now before my black fashion brethren get there ‘feathers ruffled’, hear my view point first, because what this young woman said is VERY TRUE.

First, lets ask ourselves a view questions to get a better understanding of the racial dynamics that concern the creative aspects of the industry.

1. Does the industry contain myopic, single-minded idiots that have that are ONLY concerned with their “vision” and feel they need NOT offer any contributions concerning the diversity they display concerning their brand and or product. – Yes,…( That was an “Emphatic, my mama in sunday service, catching the Holy Ghost” YES, let us  NOT get that twisted).

2. Are they wrong when they say that black models “don’t sell”? – Lets put this way, I HAVE NEVER seen a product that runway /print goddesses, Naomi Campbell , Iman, Tyra Banks,  and Alex Wek would display  that I did not want to buy copious amounts of, spending all I had to feel as fabulous as they looked in that campaign or on that runway. Being honest, it was Madame Naomi that have turned me on to so many new designers, and new aspects of my own style,….can we say Louis Vuitton Kalahari Bag,.allow me to explain. The Kalahari bag by LV was a masterpiece in eclectic, delicious construction and design, BUT ALAS, there was NO male ‘counterpart’ or a male version of that bag that men could ‘rock’.

Even though the fabulous music maven herself, Madge, (thats Madonna for those of that have been under a rock for the last 30 years), was chosen to be the visual spokesperson for this sweet product line, It was Ms. Campbell that ‘moved earth and the universe’, and had me to buy this bag, alterate the shoulder straps, making them longer, transforming a wonderful shoulder bag into a simply gorgeous messenger bag fit for a fashion style master such as myself. Lets put it this way, when I watch runway shows, I ALWAYS compare them to Naomi,…..always, its unconscious, i’m sorry.

Lets get into that “walk” for a minute. Naomi has the type of walk, when she walks down the runway, you LITERALLY forget where you are, you are in the presence of a goddess, and you are deliciously  happy to be there. What she is wearing during this divine, spiritual moment is ingrained into your  soul, into your spirit, thats the ‘power of presence’ she has !

IS not Naomi a black woman?,…..last time I looked, she WAS NOT purple with green spots, but I digress.

In the day and age when a carmel skinned black man is the most powerful man in the free  world, many young blacks NOW feel entitled to be more excepted into arenas that we are normally not accepted into.

News flash at 6:00 pm- It does not work that way black people!

If we want to still be intimately involved in the fashion movement, and continue to make our presence known, we must NOT rest on our laurels, sitting back and feel that the world will take notice of what we have to offer. Yes, the world is very much a different place from when I was a fledgling associate designer some 20 years ago, but MUCH is STILL the same. If we want designers to take our talents and beauty seriously, then we have to become a “super negroes”.

Allow me to elaborate on this age old philosophy that has driven many of our forbearers into the world of equal treatment.

Its simple, you want to be noticed. here is what you have to do: ( take out your notebooks and pencils young fashion brethren):

Shine brighter, be faster, be more beautiful, be more talented than the ‘competition’.

That’s it, its not rocket science, just be damn better than what you see around you!

When a young designer of color walks into a showroom with talents that clearly are ‘leaps and bounds’ over other applicants, YOU WILL get that job, the employer would be an idiot not to hire you, ( and if that’s the case, you DO NOT want to work for them anyways!). He or she sees your talent and smells the elegant, pungent aroma of money, and LOTS of it. So you are a black designer, make sure that every aspect of your design skills are at their premium. A designer that is not just technically literate, but can  use that computer mouse and create INTENSE beauty, transitioning onto a sketch pad, creating ‘fashion miracles’ with your colored pencils is going to get hired. A black designer that can forecast trends, like taking their next breath, interpreting these trends into beautiful, commercially viable product will get hired, there is no ‘if and or buts’ about this fact.

Yes, the fashion industry is notoriously myopic, but she loves one thing more than all, only one thing can move her and that is money. The fashion business is about money, more than discrimination, more than their idiotic ‘tunnel vision’ of  their OWN demographics, money is what moves the industry.

Our younger generation has forgotten, in most part, that nothing is promised and they will never treated equal anywhere on this earth, that is just a sad, but true fact. But instead of making this reality a disastrous detriment, stagnating your growth as a creative and as a human being, have this fact become a dazzling, beautiful attribute. Your skin color, when armed with incredible talent, dazzling beauty and style, becomes the asset that separates you from the herd.  When Naomi first started as a model, her blazing shot to super model-dome was not immediate, in fact many designers did not want to use her at all.

BUT when she did get in front of these collective nay-sayers, ‘the walk’ was invented, this was her moment to prove to them that she was and is the MOST beautiful woman in the world. With each stylized sway of her hips, she portrayed a dynamic aspect of femininity that was new, sexy, all woman, but amazing powerful and full of presence.

Unfortunately, our younger generation has forgotten that we still must prove ourselves to those that feel that we are less than or simply do not matter. What they need to learn is this should be a challenge, the opportunity to conjure a ‘perfect storm’ destroying their stagnant, ignorant expectations of what our skin color portrays to them, ushering in new attitudes, as we take that opportunity to shine brighter than any star, brighter and more dazzling than anything the heavens can display.

These attitudes are not going to change, we are working with ‘creative presidence” and under these creative freedom(s), many single-minded attitudes are  allowed to  thrive, all so that the creative process maintains a form of  democracy. It is the way it should be, but what should change is how we see ourselves. Once we truly understand our intrinsic,divine beauty and talent, the world will have no choice but to bow down in honor,….just ask  Naomi Campbell , Alek Wek , or Tracy Reese, they thrive in a industry known for its ignorance, not in spite of their skin color, but because they learned to combine this natural aspect of their person with amazing talent, presence,drive and determination. So next time you are confronted with a blatant example of ignorance, be not discouraged, they have thrown the ‘gauntlet of expectation’ upon the ground and this is a supreme challenge. Its now up to you to decide if you will accept this wonderfully fabulous dual, utterly destroying their expectations of what they never knew to begin with.


11 responses »

  1. I have to admit, I was very angry reading the title of the article, but read it and now I am inspired. Thank You

  2. “IS not Naomi a black woman?,…..last time I looked, she WAS NOT purple with green spots, but I digress” I think i just laughed so loud my assistant came running in my office. Beautiful article, and witty “twist” to racial affirmation and diversity. You need a larger platform, this should be read by every person of the fashion industry regardless of racial background.
    Bravo Seaki!

    • There are a number of quotes that just leave you in stitches, but make you think. I like that a lot. My lover is a Mexican designer here in Mexico City, and it’s sometimes difficult because he is a indo Mexican, and some whiter Mexicans or Europeans look down on him. But like you said, he wows them with his talent and gains a new client and their respect.

  3. Like one of the commenters above, I found the title inflammatory and ignorant, expecting an article that reflected negativity. I was going to “school” the writer of the article, but instead learned something myself. Gifted writer. God bless. I still don’t like the title and thinks it sends out the wrong message,but it grabs you, then you read the message and learn.

    • Same for me. I am a white guy that is an employer of all talent and I have witnessed hiring bias with my other business colleagues, there excuse is that blacks don’t understand fashion or trends. I even got a stiff drink so my comment would not come across angry. I was wrong indeed. Like my dad always said, “grab their attention, then tell them how you feel”. Masterfully done, great empowered message that I could not get across any better myself.

      • I would also like to add like another person on here, you do need a larger platform, I found you through Linked In. You have viewpoint and style writing that can be very valuable to brands.

      • I agree while I was reading Andre Leon Talley was the voice in my head, but the content is sassier like you are talking to one of your BFF that is in fashion

  4. Black models don’t sell…to the wealthy white men who keep the fashion industry afloat with the discretionary income their women-folk freely throw about on garments and accesories.

    • ACTUALLY.COM!! Being a black stylist that happen to dress and recommend styles and looks to the ‘wealthy white men and women who keep the fashion industry afloat’, I am inspired by black models and ANYTHING they wear. FURTHERMORE, when I present designer ‘look-books’ to my clients of current styles from designers, they ALWAYS want what the black models are wearing, desiring to rock that certain WHOLE look, (down to the footwear),full force with no string attached, Proven fact! and it often amazes me, because many of the styles I would NOT recommend, but they seem to rock the look and you know what, THEY LOOK AWESOME 🙂 I hope your comment was dipped in sarcasm, and sprinkled with irony. If not, well,….so sad for you.
      My advice to designers: Key looks in your collections that are not so ‘commercial’ but are more creative, and or key high looks with extra ordinary price points that you want to sell like hot-cakes,….put those looks on a strong black model, and watch those items fly out the store! Designers have not got the memo, as usual.

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